The solid steel ceiling of failure

Failure is my favourite word. Fail at 10 things a day and see how quickly failure loses its impact on you.

I’ve been inspired this evening and made to realise just how unbreakable that ceiling can be for citizen journalists or any media that doesn’t have millionaire backing.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett

And from Oprah:

Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. – Oprah Winfrey

10 years before a sports reporter was finally justified in his claims that Lance Armstrong was a drug cheat, the Sunday Times weathered a £1m lawsuit [link]. They stuck by their reporter though. They even put out an ad for questions Oprah should ask Lance on her program.

And that’s just a whole different world from citizen journalists. If we had a million pounds or three, we’d set up a paper or a magazine. We’d even be local newspaper owners.

But the very first criteria seems to be a lack of resources. You are limited by what you can fight in court, what you can say that the wealthiest don’t want you to say, and what stories you can break as a named authority.

There is a limit to what you can do without money.

Further sources — rounding up

Social media has been in the news recently because the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, was blocked from a succession of them. One side of the argument says that censoring hate speech and speech that incites violence is an important element of freedom of expression (true) and the other suggests that when social media platforms form a monopoly, then censoring speech becomes problematic (also true).

Both cases have merit although Trump could start up a blog on a website of his own and write whatever he wanted. Would that be censored? He has a handful more days of office and could give a press conference every day — would that be reported? I imagine he would be. If he wasn’t then that would be problematic censorship.

However, it is local politics that I’m more interested in and how social media is used at this level. But I can’t just dismiss how it is used elsewhere so I’ve been looking at further literature on the subject.

Manuel Castell has updated his 2012 book Networks of Outrage and Hope looking at networked social movements;

There’s an excellent article I was sent about framed effects and the ‘protest paradigm’ when I mentioned the XR protest coverage in the Bristol Post. It makes the point about the watchdog and guard dog media.

Framing effects of Television News Coverage of Social Protest (2009) Douglas M. McLeod & Benjamin H. Detenber

Abstract: We investigated framing effects of television news coverage of an anarchist protest. Three treatment stories differed in their level of status quo support. Status quo support had significant effects on viewers, leading them to be more critical of, and less likely to identify with, the protesters; less critical of the police; and less likely to support the protesters’ expressive rights. Status quo support also produced lower estimates of the protest’s effectiveness, public support, and perceptions of newsworthiness. The results substantiate concerns about status quo support by showing that it can influence audience perceptions.

I found an excellent-sounding article on The Combined Effects of Mass Media and Social Media on Political Perceptions and Preferences.

AIC [abstract, introduction, conclusion]

Abstract:

Changes in political perceptions and preferences may result from the combined effects of news from various media. Estimating these combined effects requires the best possible, albeit different, measures of news obtained from self-selected mass media and social media that can be linked to panel survey data concerning perceptions and preferences. For the 2017 Dutch national elections, such data is available. Political perceptions and preferences are affected by news statements in self-selected mass media on issue positions, support and criticism, real world conditions and success and failure, in accordance with the theories on agenda setting and issue ownership, social identity, retrospective voting and bandwagon effects, respectively. Combined effects emerge because many people use both mass media and social media. The latter do more than just reinforce predispositions. Social media also have a mere exposure effect, and a multistep flow effect that amplifies news about party successes and failures from self-selected mass media.

Keywords: election campaigns, mass media, social media, partisan selective exposure, news effects

Introduction

Contemporary election campaigns are hard to imagine without voters being exposed to news from mass media such as radio and TV, and newer media such as Facebook and Twitter. The current study goes beyond the previous literature by directly addressing the research question: how are the perceptions and preferences of voters affected by self-selected news content from social media and mass media? Research into the combined effects of news from social media and classic media is still new for two major reasons.

Conclusion

This study is a plea for communication research into the combined effects of exposure to mass media content and social media content, based on the best possible, although imperfect, measures for each. Combined effects research is required to arrive at nontrivial advice on campaigning–and on the media coverage thereof. Which issues should be emphasized and which positions should be taken? Whom to neglect, support, or attack? How to mobilize endorsements from societal actors and the media? How to provoke the media and political adversaries with sharp criticisms and attacks? And above all, how to coauthor media events that will inspire the media to attribute success rather than failure to the party?

I have followed some researchers on citizen journalism and communication on Twitter. As I was scrolling through, they mentioned the idea of ‘minimal effects’ so I searched it up.

New methodologies for researching news discussion on Twitter [link]

[[with homeschooling taking place, and just generally having the girls home all the time, it’s getting a lot trickier to find 30 minutes at a time for my writing, but I’m trying]

strong coffee (series U)

How to do a case study

I have been trying to think how to present a story on the Impact Social reporting. There is so much information and all of it seems to need fact checking. The public are already paying £3000 a month for this information that seems wildly (or at times subtly) inaccurate.

A table format would seem the most useful.

There needs to be an assessment of what the response actually was and how to quantify it.

The council response to paying for this reputation awareness analysis is that residents have complex problems and the council needs tools to find out what these are in order to help address them. This implies that the analysis would be examining the local aspect of the reporting and would examine issues that affect residents.

From looking at some of the analysis, however, it is clear that the focus is on how the mayor is perceived in a general way and in relation to any category of branding.

The SDGs are the sustainable development goals promoted by, among others, NYC commissioners who the mayor has recorded promos for.

However, they have been criticised for their focus on economic growth as the vehicle for promoting sustainability. Philip Alston, the former UN reporteur on extreme poverty says: “Economic growth is at the core of the SDGs and presented as the engine for eradicating poverty. “But after decades of unparalleled growth, the primary beneficiaries have been the wealthiest. Rather than an end to poverty, unbridled growth has brought extreme inequality, widespread precarity in a world of plenty, roiling discontent and climate change—which will take the greatest toll on the world’s poor.” [link]

Not only are they not the method by which poverty will be eradicated, but they also don’t seem to link up to people’s awareness of what needs to happen in the city. It’s quite interesting to see that most of the points (when they are rightly ascribed as such) deemed to be positive and not grassroot responses from residents, they are business-linked and capital-linked issues

Local responses to mayoral actions are invariably branded as negative and they are littered with activities demanding justice for public services, funding, and behaviour. The very first words for the negative trends sections are “Continued activism from campaign groups”.

In the first report, the ‘local’ responses include campaigning to keep libraries open, metrobus spending and failures, criticism of public funds used to pay for £165,000 salaries for council employees, “complaints about cuts to services in deprived areas”, “increasing homelessness”, social housing, cycling, RADE criticisms about air quality, road safety, etc.

One example of a positive trend was the ‘dads and lads’ boxing promotion. The mayor tweeted twice about these events, promoting them as positive — one in February (before Impact Social began their reputation awareness monitoring) and one in April. In reply to the April Tweet was one comment about ‘punching the mayor in the face’ and how that could be a positive thing for engagement, and the other was about the sexist naming of the scheme, which then led the club to say that in fact its work was 35-40% with girls/females.

There were six RTs of the tweet, and these are important because they show that people want to publicise and increase the number of people who see the information. Three of the RTs were by people involved with the gym itself. I can only see five of the RTs on my account so the sixth one could be from someone who has blocked me or vice versa. So from the five, 3 were from the business, two were from people seemingly unassociated with it. The comments were primarily negative.

There were six RTs of the tweet, and these are important because they show that people want to publicise and increase the number of people who see the information. Three of the RTs were by people involved with the gym itself. I can only see five of the RTs on my account so the sixth one could be from someone who has blocked me or vice versa. So from the five, 3 were from the business, two were from people seemingly unassociated with it. The comments were primarily negative.

Two positive sentiments about Empire Fighting Chance were related to residents’ past dealings with the boxing centre and their community work. There was no new positive engagement but a link to past positive behaviour.

Also, see my review of Deborah Jump’s book on the criminology of boxing, violence and desistance [link]: How can this violent sport help in preventing violent crime?

novel writing on ancient a typewriter

Local/national responsibilities

The biggest news in the world right now, locally and nationally, is Covid and associated restrictions. It’s also a useful way to see about the limited powers local governments actually have. And the newsworthiness of it. And how news resources affect news agendas.

Yesterday, for example, was a big day for school announcements. We were told by the government that the schools should stay open but the unions and SAGE (and Independent SAGE) were calling for closures to avoid overwhelming the NHS and killing thousands more people.

Schools are funded through local government from a national-government determined school grant. Academy schools are not under local authority control but there are still some schools that are.

As we were waiting for news yesterday about what was going to happen with schools there was little information provided by local government. A local media organisation, Bristol247, began an update on decisions that schools were taking about closing or staying open; The main newspaper Bristol Post was reporting on closures or otherwise as well. There was nothing I could find on another ‘local’ paper, the Bristol Cable, about school closures.

Schools, and pot holes, and bin collections are the very essence of local government. In 2014, further responsibilities and less money were given to councils under the Care Act.

There’s a space here for trying to understand about how much of news about schools, and what type of news, is considered newsworthy and by which publications. How much of it as part of ‘use case’ process rather than a division through spheres of what is news?

You wouldn’t expect to see an update on the BBC of which schools are closing with the same level of detail as you would on Bristol247 or the Post (primarily the Post) but the BBC does provide a link to regional media sources (link).

One of my stories is about SEND and it got very little traction at all. Such low numbers. I’ve noted with other SEND stories, it takes a big effort to get coverage in the news. One of the issues for this, rather than any issue of deviant spheres not getting coverage, is that the system feels too complicated for many journalists. The issues in the story are multifaceted. The streams of income and responsibility are hard to decipher.

And similar may have been happening yesterday. The news sources may not have been sure what the council’s responsibilities were vis a vis schools. When I asked as to whether they would have expected a communication from the council, the response was that it was surprising they had not heard anything. They would have expected something.

Then there was a conversation about what it was that councils could do and how many schools were academies compared to local authority run– the answer wasn’t certain.

It turns out that 2 secondary schools and about half the primaries are locally run.

Basu (2016) does talk about this in relation to how journalistic practices such as cutting the number of reporters, eliminating specialist roles — we used to have an education editor at the Post but I’m not sure that role exists anymore — and centralising much content has reduced the complexity of stories covered.

Although I note that finding out which schools are closing or not is not a complex issue. Knowing the responsibilities of the council in relation to school closures, however, may just be. Not understanding a story may keep it off the news agenda as much as not wanting to run it for other reasons.

painting of carved door on white bachground

Post-holiday catch up

I have found myself on a bit of a holiday break but am now back to my routine. I kept collecting bits of information and found new sources.

One very useful source was a blog on how to study and write as a researcher — tips etc.

I found the details of what is needed for submission of a journal article — Journalism Studies (below:)

Preparing Your Paper

Articles

  • Should be written with the following elements in the following order: title page (including Acknowledgements as well as Funding and grant-awarding bodies); abstract; keywords; main text; references; appendices (as appropriate); table(s) with caption(s) (on individual pages); figure caption(s) (as a list)
  • Should be between 6000 and 9000 words, inclusive of the abstract, tables, references, figure captions, endnotes.
  • Should contain an unstructured abstract of 200 words.
  • Should contain between 6 and 6 keywords. Read making your article more discoverable, including information on choosing a title and search engine op2

Publication Charges

There are no submission fees, publication fees or page charges for this journal.

(link)

And now it’s time to get back to some thinking and writing.

Impact Social

I’ve written about this before but briefly, the Bristol mayor Marvin Rees paid for a type of brand awareness, reputation management analysis from March 2018. [link]

I broke the story and then it was covered by the Bristol Post and BBC Bristol.

The cost to the tax payer has been, and continues to be, £3000.

Policy or politic-wise, the impacts from this revelation have been the following:

  • At the first full council after this story ran, the Labour administration had one of their cllrs — Marg Hickman — mention it as a joke: ‘people complain we don’t listen and then they complain that we listen too much’ — i.e. the administration claimed that this ‘reputational awareness’ data gathering showed some kind of interest in what people were saying so it could HELP them. Any results from this work would HELP the people.
    • This is an interesting take and could be a useful narrative to use for checking.
  • The second impact from breaking this story and pursuing an FOI (alongside others who also FOId it) has been the release of the reports for years 2018 and 2019. The council’s FOI team said they would not release the documents because they were already scheduled for release in December 2020. The reports from 2020, however, have not been published.
  • An interesting point was made on Twitter about how ethical it might be to collect such information about one’s voters — constituents? Apart from GDPR implications, what are the ethical considerations?
  • Because the reports have been released, we can see what has been discussed and how. Starting from the very first report, there is some clue as to the lack of understanding the company had about what they were reporting.
    • First, note that £3000 a month could have paid for an employee to do this work. Probably much less than that.
    • Second, the information provided does not seem to match up to reality.

Example 1 — first report (March to April 2018):

The report’s ‘analysis’ is divided into positive and negative trends, and each section is provided in sentence-length bullet points. There may be further reporting than just the documents because the contract specified an in-person representation once a month.

In the first report, under ‘positive’ trends, there is the following bullet point: “• Pick up from local political blogs and radio shows that the Mayor is “bringing US style business politics to Britain”

Now, I can see that the mayor might find this type of comment believable; he might believe that US politics is a ‘positive’ thing because he was involved in it as an assistant to Bill Clinton’s spiritual adviser Tony Campolo. In fact, he has brought his seemingly one role — to coordinate with faith (Christian) groups for welfare purposes to Bristol.

However, I found it a curious prospect that the people making such statements would have meant them this way so I searched for the blogs (plural) as cited in the bullet point.

I found one place where this was mentioned; it was on Bristol journalist Tony Gosling’s BCFM show

http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/96933

https://politicsthisweek.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/bcfms-weekly-politics-show-presented-by-tony-gosling-100/

I listened to the show and there was an interview on it with outgoing Lib Dem cllr Clare Campion-Smith. The transcript of the relevant section is below. In contrast to any notion of ‘US politics’ in Bristol being a positive thing, the issues brought up were distinctly negative:

  1. Salaries paid for council officials were too high (Tony Gosling linked this with ‘US style politics’);
    • This issue was raised in the ‘negative trends’ part of the report too: “The “four £165k salary jobs at BCC” line was widely used.” New executive directors had been brought in at high salaries. The Chief Executive role had been eliminated;
  2. Marvin Rees was very new to politics and had surrounded himself with other new faces and there was a real loss of political experience; “he doesn’t have a balance of experience and new people”; he’s never been a cllr or an MP.
  3. The mayor was also compared to Trump in terms of coming from outside politics, and called naive:
    1. TG: I wonder whether there’s a bit of a Trump syndrome here? someone coming from outside politics; i mean obviously Marvin’s been involved in the public sector most of his working life but where someone is might be a little bit naïve in certain ways?
  4. There is a reference to bypassing democracy in a sense, although that is implied:
    1. Clare: I think there’s something very strange about democracy, and that is that you do have to take a lot of notice of the people and you’ve got to persuade them, you’ve got to listen to them, persuade them and that takes a bit more time.
  5. Quite a damning comment is made about the mayors being seduced by the role and not being interested in democracy because that takes time. They would rather get things done:
    1. Clare: yes, yes, I think Marvin would like to be more collaborative. I think Marvin has formulated quite a lot of his politics in the USA. He doesn’t come with the same level of experience that George did because George had been president of RIBA and he’d been, he had his own, [] so he came with a different background but I think anybody coming from outside the council, always finds democracy a challenge because it sort of slows them down, and I think, it’s very difficult to concentrate on the hard graft of being a leader especially in a time when you don’t have a lot of money so I think both are rather seduced by being mayors on a global stage and in reality what we want at the moment is a lot of concentration on Bristol and a lot of hard graft.
    2. The point about concentrating on Bristol is also an interesting one, especially as the second mayor spent time in July involved in New York City’s Sustainable Development Goal agenda: “13:45 Record message for NYC Commissioner for #SDGLocal campaign” (link). Quite a few FOIs on the mayor are about all his trips and how they are funded.

As can be seen from reading the above points, the discussion about bringing US politics to Bristol was distinctly not positive.

Ironically or aptly enough, bringing US style politics to Bristol was another story that came up a year later when it was revealed that the mayor met with ‘close friend’ Kris Vallotton (an evangelist US preacher and associate founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry that is known for its beliefs on healing the sick, raising the dead, anti-same sex relationships, anti-abortion, pro-Trump etc.) for US-Bristol ‘trade’ issues. That US-Bristol trade has yet to be unveiled.

This is a tiny exploration into what the reports say, how accurate they are, and what their purpose might be.

One final comment — and I note that my lack of discourse analysis skills makes me think I need to read up on how to do that — the reports brand certain residents as ‘negative’ because they are campaigning to save public services.

‘library activists, complaints about cuts to services, Metrobus issues, increasing homelessness in the city, “• Local action group RADE Bristol is regularly posting detailed scientific air quality warnings which are getting some traction”.

The labelling of these activities as ‘negative’ seems to bely the point made by the council that the reports are being produced so that the council can know about people’s issues.

If the council wanted to deal with these issues (while noting that £40k a year is spent on the Quality of Life survey) would they not be labelled as ‘opportunities’ or something like ‘challenges’?

[further research needed: methods of analysing text (I have studied qualitative analysis; reputation awareness tools]

13:11 Clare Campion-Smith
Clare: the mayor has made a few mistakes with his cabinet, the sense in which, and I am being very open now, in a sense in which he has got too many new people in and he doesn’t have that … he doesn’t have a balance of experience and new people — that’s just a personal view because at the same time Mark Bradshaw went when I went and I think that was sad.
TG: Oh but ‘course, Mark, he didn’t really see through the delivery of metro bus as well, didn’t he? and also we hear about all the changes to much the senior staff at the council as well as people in the cabinet because the council has been defending its decision today, Marvin has, to pay new chief executive directors, there’s four of them, £165k ; now it does seem a little bit steep; we’re being told that there isn’t enough money to go around; that we’ve also got these new faces and I wonder, with all these new people involved, both at cabinet level and the council staff, do you think there’s any problem with that, isn’t that just what Marvin has to do, really? any new mayor is going to come in and think maybe at least possibly think ‘Oh I just need a new broom around here’.

Clare: that is a temptation and i have a serious concern leaving the council that in fact it is in a considerable state of flux. We have had a lot of senior officers leaving and they’ve taken with them a lot of good knowledge and, as i said beforehand, I think that balance of experience and new thinking is helpful but I think we have got too many people who are new to the council. I think the other thing is that… I am quite worried the city , about the fact we don’t have a chief exec , because Marvin himself is new to politics; he’s never been a councillor, never been an MP, so in one sense he’s new to politics, and that’s no bad thing, but, it does mean that you really need a strong, experienced chief exec because that’s the balance between the politics and the executive; Marvin is the chief politician, and I think we probably do need a proper chief exec who can hold the reins as far as the officers are concerned.
TG: Marvin will say, I imagine, is that he… it would be nice to get him on this program but he won’t reply to my requests at the moment, but what he’ll say is that these four chief officers I’m paying £165k each, they are actually in a way better than a chief exec because they have more brain power between the four of them.
Clare: I think that we will have to see how it all pans out but there’s nobody in a sense who can say then I hold the ultimate decisions from the officer perspective and officers; and I mean who’s going to arbitrate if there is a disagreement between those four chief officers?
TG: I imagine Marvin will; that’s his job isn’t it?
Clare: yes, but it’s sort of very useful if you’ve got an officer there as well.
TG: I wonder whether there’s a bit of a Trump syndrome here? someone coming from outside politics; i mean obviously Marvin’s been involved in the public sector most of his working life but where someone is might be a little bit naïve in certain ways?
Clare: I couldn’t really comment on that except that I don’t think he does have the political experience that you gain from being a councillor before moving on to being leader of council or one of those particular roles. and I think that is useful. I think there’s something very strange about democracy, and that is that you do have to take a lot of notice of the people and you’ve got to persuade them, you’ve got to listen to them, persuade them and that takes a bit more time. so, people come in wanting to be new brooms and over my various years, many years with different experiences, I think that the most helpful thing with change is somebody who comes in and observes; and when they’ve observed, and when they’ve understood the system, it’s at that point that they’re ready to make changes
TG: We’ve also seen things bubbling along at the moment , Clare, I wonder what would be your parting thoughts about the way the arena project.. I mean I can remember back to the noughties there were people like John Savage from Business West and he was also a member of the Labour party, constantly banging his fist on the table saying when are we going to get this bleep bleep arena built?
Clare: right, and yes, we’re still saying that when are we going to get this arena built. There was a motion at full council. I voted for it at temple meads because I think it’s a better location . I don’t think it’s an arena at any price so if we can’t get the funding package right then it may be that we have to delay it for a few more years.
..
TG: What about style of leadership because you’ve seen both in action haven’t you?
Clare: yes, yes, I think Marvin would like to be more collaborative. I think Marvin has formulated quite a lot of his politics in the USA. He doesn’t come with the same level of experience that George did because George had been president of RIBA and he’d been, he had his own, [] so he came with a different background but I think anybody coming from outside the council, always finds democracy a challenge because it sort of slows them down, and I think, it’s very difficult to concentrate on the hard graft of being a leader especially in a time when you don’t have a lot of money so i think both are rather seduced by being mayors on a global stage and in reality what we want at the moment is a lot of concentration on Bristol and a lot of hard graft

red dragon and panda as symbol of China

Local news in the world

With four days to Christmas, the port of Dover is closed for 48 hours at least, Brexit is 10 days away, covid-19 has an additional strain that I’ve heard called covid-20 and life has been affected in a ridiculous number of ways.

So, what is the role of local news (and local government) in this situation when the locality is not the one immediately affected? How much effect gets reported?

What is the remit of local or regional media? There’s a great clip in the movie The Paper where the staff are having their morning meeting and discussing incidents around the world. None of them affect them until a local couple are in the incident report.

The Paper is about a regional paper having to deal with the big boys (a gendered phrase but still used in the patriarchy?) who have more money and can have more staff, nice offices, etc. The extra work is done in the film’s central offices by overworked staff. But to do the story right, you can’t sell out to the moneyed forces, seems to be the message.

The main character Henry is overworked, has more pressure on him through his wife’s imminent delivery of their baby and is looking for a way to improve things. He goes for a job interview with the Sentinel, a big paper with lots of money.

I imagine that the Sentinel is meant to be the New York Times. The unhurried nature of it is in contrast with the hectic smaller paper. The New York Times is considered the paper of record. It covers the world but it is a local paper.

In Noam Chomsky’s interview with Andrew Marr, he talks about a story being placed in Newsday in order to smoke out the New York Times.

They couldn’t get the main stream press to cover them, but they did manage to get one journal to cover it – Newsday – that’s a suburban journal in Long Island, the purpose obviously being to smoke out The New York Times, as that’s the only thing that matters.

What I’m getting at in a slow and arduous way is that resources determine a lot of remit. With all the money in the world, a local paper can cover the world. Would it be useful for a local paper to cover the world?

What does it take for a local paper to cover national issues (or to rephrase, what does it take for a local story to be a national issue — see Diesel fleet story I covered) and for a national paper to cover local issues?

One case over the weekend was illustrative of how symbolic paraphernalia adds to authority and it aligns with another case that happened the other way around — from local newspaper to national coverage.

On Saturday, a Twitter account Called Caroline[lots of numbers] tweeted a Breaking story that Christmas had been cancelled. It took other journalists vouching for her — transferred authority — for anyone to believe that it actually was the deputy political editor of the Mirror who had been locked out of her account because she’d forgotten the password.

The other case I was thinking of was local democracy reporter Adam Postans discovering that –before the vaccine had even been approved — distribution of it was going to begin December 2nd in Bristol (and other areas). The Bristol Post broke the story and it went nationwide; actually it went worldwide but was not really credited to the original reporter. It was just news.

Did it add to the authority of the journalist?

Anyway, just a scrambling of thoughts there trying to link things together. I’ll let it cogitate for a bit until I can find a link.

Two issues to think about here:

  1. How do we fund journalism and does it affect what gets covered, and how?
  2. Does more money in social media make for a greater social media effect? How does it affect the model?
painting of bower

Using news tools and making lists

I’ve been reading about digital forms of narrative recently. The impetus for some of the new topics is the advent of Alexa and other voice-reactive media sources. One worry that came up was that if the airwaves/alexa waves were controlled in quite specific ways then entire topics might be ignored by listeners. Then came the idea of using different tools to attract listeners to stories — who chooses, who is the curator and arbiter of what is in the public interest?

“Data can be abused,” says Brendan Sweeney, director of new content and innovation at KUOW public radio in Seattle. “And it’s simultaneously true that the myth of a journalist’s or an editor’s gut being the all-supreme thing, that’s also problematic.” The challenge, Sweeney says, is not to assume listeners avoid entire topics, but to instead look at the data more closely to see if something else might be turning them away.  “If an important story isn’t finding the audience it deserves, we need to adapt how we tell that story. Experiment with leads, framing, tone, etc.,” Sweeney says. [link]

Getting people to pay attention to what you want them to listen to is a topic about ‘newsworthy’ all of its own. Do newspapers reflect public perceptions or do they guide and reinforce them?

And in that vein, how does social media guide, reflect, and/or reinforce them?

Mirkham [link] writes that the very structure and use of social media determines the output and not in the freely determined way that Castell perhaps posits:

“the last thing posts on social media are is representative of reality: indeed they are nothing more than the overdetermined products of the commercial, or neoliberal,
logics that drive the design, promotion and management of these platforms.”

He points out that social media platforms such as Facebook get you to identify and describe yourself in relation to consumer goods — favourite films, products, holidays etc. You reflect your consumer identity more than anything else.

I’m trying to assess whether this is something that can be modelled. My process has been very much about Twitter so far. Facebook has a more obvious way of tracking consumer links but Twitter is not so obvious from what I can tell.

This brings me back to Gary Younge who writes that Twitter is not the real world. Journalists see it as a proxy for the world but the world is out there not on your phone. Twitter storms happen, he says, but does anyone outside Twitter even notice?

This is checkable — do politicians notice? do they reference it? do they change policies?

In the case of the faith advisor story, the mayor did notice it and made disparaging remarks to a congregation of people who gathered to hear his interview. No policy changed, which is the criteria Chomsky states as being a useful tool to assess things.

One of the latest Twitter storms is about the Canary — a left-wing media site that has taken up a position against mainstream newspapers such as the Guardian, Telegraph, Times etc. Mostly the Guardian, I’d say, because that is the paper that says it is on the left — it is the book end of left mainstream thinking and writing.

There seem to be two issues about the Canary’s authority [and I write this from a distance because I don’t read the Canary; for various reasons]:

  1. the topics the Canary covers range between legitimate opposition and deviant spheres (Hallin); they covered the Julian Assange trial while no other paper gave it much space at all, for example. The Assange trial is arguably one of the most important trials for journalistic freedom;
  2. The style of the Canary’s writing and processes don’t conform to what mainstream journalists are used to producing. There is no immediate sense of ‘authority’ because the guidelines of what counts are not there. Some pieces are emotive, topics are covered there that you wouldn’t ordinarily see, etc. The fact that you don’t get an ‘impartial’ examination of issues makes it difficult to assess the value of the news item. You need to trust the authority of the journalist and media source rather than the content. But the media source and the writer aren’t immediately known. (that’s not well phrased I know but my point is that because the content can’t be trusted on its own, it needs to gain its strength from the authority of the media source or its writer — neither seem to have enough journalistic professionalism or tools to make that possible). I think this needs a little more thought about its phrasing.
  3. In contrast, the socialist newspaper the Morning Star may cover topics that aren’t covered elsewhere but the style of writing is similar in tone and shape to what other professional newspapers produce.

Hypothesis to look at: style and practice give authority.

A Twitter storm or at least lots of Tweets went out yesterday, 16 December 2020, about Jeremy Corbyn giving an interview to the Canary. Guardian columnist Owen Jones said Corbyn should not be giving interviews to the Canary.

I tried to find reasons for people disliking the Canary but there was really only one that came up — singular, not plural — the Canary is anti-Semitic in the same way Corbyn was anti-Semitic.

Not one mention of the professionalism or behaviour of its writers other than anti-Semitism.

This is an interesting reason because of its one-sidedness. The people making the accusations don’t apply the same reasoning to other media sources. Kier Starmer was on LBC and didn’t address the white supremacy comments from a listener, for example.

Mainstream newspapers have over time justified bombing Kosovo and Iraq and Syria and Lybia, shown support to Saudi Arabia etc. [link] But killing millions of people doesn’t fit in the same reasoning as the alleged anti-Semitism of the Canary even though one is quite clear.

But the point is that the professionalism and writing style of the Canary doesn’t really come up in people’s complaints. Is this because it’s an unconscious understanding of which are the professional and authoritative news sources?

In Google’s patent for its algorithm, it mentions that local news is of lower quality than national newspapers. Why is that?

Anyway, on to lists. I have been making lists of the topics I have written about over the last month or so and I have been doing it in Word rather than on the blog. While I believe that being transparent with my work processes is important so I can not only explore what it is to be a researcher but so others can see it too, the list work is too immense to post each day. The first attempt at pasting all my work in one document was 68 pages. I then made the font smaller until it was 52 pages. I’ve deleted parts and made bullet points of other notes and yet it’s still 32 pages.

It’s not as quick as I’d imagined!

painting of moonlit Christmas night in village

Plurality and working up a first draft

“At the heart of plurality concerns is a conviction that healthy democracies depend on the circulation and intersection of diverse voices and perspectives.”

“One look at Google’s most recent patent filing for its news algorithm reveals just how much size matters in the world of digital news: the size of the audience, the size of the newsroom, and the volume of output.

Here’s the patent for google’s algorithm https://patents.google.com/patent/US9037575?oq=google+news+systems+and+Methods+for+Improving+the+Ranking+of+News+Articles

From the patent: “CNN and BBC are widely regarded as high quality sources of accuracy of reporting, professionalism in writing, etc., while local news sources, such as hometown news sources, may be of lower quality”. https://inforrm.org/2016/03/06/tightening-the-grip-why-the-web-is-no-haven-of-media-plurality-justin-schlosberg

The wording of the Google algorithm fits in with my thoughts about the statistical model I wrote about the other day. I was talking to someone about democracy last Thursday and being from academia, she mentioned a useful technique to try to sort out my data issues: maybe I could apply for a grant or funding of some type to get a survey done by Survation or one of the other survey companies such as YouGov. It’s a thought.

As I keep writing and finding more topics that extend from my original ideas, I realise they are all relevant but I’m worried I’m not circling back enough to complete an article outline.

Just in time, a blog post from a writer who focuses on academic writing, was published [link].

Some strategies for writing up a first draft

I had read about this technique when I’d first started out all this so it feels like a bit of a revelation coming back to it. It might have been in Dunleavy’s book about Authoring Your Frist PhD.

  1. Compile all your notes and random thoughts into one document. Name it.
  2. Make these random thoughts into a long list.
  3. Group the things that seem to go together into larger pieces.
  4. Write up the things into bigger chunks — use sentences.
  5. Shuffle the chunks around until they seem to have some sort of order.
  6. Note any missing chunks from the narrative. Write those in.
  7. Then keep writing up the other chunks from the list.
  8. Turn the writing into more complete thoughts, one paragraph/chunk at a time. You don’t have to do it at once.
  9. Read through and then leave it for a few days.
  10. Read through again and see if your argument feels strong enough, you may need to refocus on a type of reader or journal you have in mind. Maybe the text needs reordering.
  11. Decide what needs to be changed – “Make sure you add something like a bit of an introduction and conclusion if it isn’t there – remember that these have to ‘shake hands’ and refer to each other.”
  12. Transfer it to a new document and name it first draft. And remember it is still a first draft.

I love this and can use my writing time to do it. I have been reading through Schlosberg over the weekend, and then found Tim Markham’s work as well — a Birkbeck colleague of JS’s.

Now and then I look through PhD funding and applications. The most relevant one for me seems the government loan scheme of £26k. You pay back after you start earning £21k and more. One of the pieces of advice always given for any PhD applications I look through is to find an adviser you think would be suitable to supervise you, and Schlosberg was one of those. I also looked through other staff members and began to read through Mirkham’s work.

Finding other research links like this also convinced me to take a step back and see how to put my list of topics together into a semblance of a first draft.

I’ve used output from some similar researchers — Tom Jackson, Mills, Schlosberg, Mirkham, etc. to identify some journals I think would be relevant to my work. Journalism Studies and Journalism Practice both look relevant as a first choice. And so it was time to start putting together the ideas for my first article.

I highly recommend following Pat Thomson’s blog. She consistently has great advice for PhD/research students. Even when I’ve read the advice once from other sources, I find it useful to revisit research and learning methods. Going back to basics as a refresher rather than a distraction can be invigorating.

I have put together my daily notes from 18/11/20 to 14/12/20. Quite pleasingly, that is almost a month so it seems the right time to gather my thoughts into a list. I’ve written 16,232 words. I’ve circled back over some topics but always at the end of each piece of writing added something I hadn’t known before I began to write.

That’s the beauty of writing; you can offload your conscious thoughts and reveal what has been simmering below. Sometimes I’m surprised at what comes up next.

During a lot of this work into citizen journalism and authority, I keep coming back to the article on Mexican journalists and anonymity plus danger. When the topic you are covering is vital for your audience — it may literally save their lives — then the risk in believing that information drops. If your life is already at risk, for example, then you will have less to lose by trusting an anonymous account.

I’m not sure that’s quite the right analogy here but there’s something about how newsworthy an item is and why.

There was a collaboration between the Huffington Post and the Bureau Local a few months ago where the HP explained why it was important to pay attention to local council cuts.

The idea of this is ludicrous from those dealing with the cuts but perhaps obvious to those who never have to deal with them.

If your child has been out of school for years because council funding cuts and basic mismanagement has meant there are not enough school places, then you don’t need an explanation for why it’s important. You know.

In that same paper, on a previous day, a murder was featured in the headlines without needing to explain why this was important. We know, or have been trained to know, why some news is evidently newsworthy.

This is a question I used to ask a journalist I know quite well — one I see every day, in fact — is this news? is this headline news? Is this newsworthy? Are you writing it? Are you assigning it to someone else?

After knowing this journalist for years, I now very rarely ask. Instead, I have internalised to a small extent what is newsworthy and if I now spot something that seems newsworthy, I pass it on. This would be the same as how you would internalise it in a newsroom but when your livelihood depends on it you internalise it a lot quicker.

We can see this ‘risk’ effect in how quickly pandemic language has been picked up during the last year. Within a day or so of a new term being introduced, it circulates effortlessly in the population and the media: social distancing, bubbles, travel windows, the R rate, etc.

And this brings us to Parenti, Medialens, learned behaviour and “Nicholas Johnson who was the former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. He said, quoted by Parenti, that there are four stages that journalists typically go through in their career:

‘In the early stage, you’re a young crusader and you write an exposé story about the powers that be, and you bring it to your editor and the editor says: “No, kill it. We can’t touch that. Too hot.”

‘Stage two: You get an idea for the story, but you don’t write it and you check with the editor first and he says: “No, won’t fly. No, I think the old man won’t like it. Don’t do that, he has a lot of friends in there and that might get messy.”

‘Stage three: You get an idea for the story and you yourself dismiss it as silly.

‘Stage four: You no longer get the idea for that kind of an exposé story.

‘And I would add a stage five: You then appear on panels, with media critics like me, and you get very angry and indignant when we say that there are biases in the media and you’re not as free and independent as you think.’”

There’s a well-known journalistci cliche that I first learned from my dad; dog bites man is not news; man bites dog, well that’s news.

How do you make the cliche into news however? Terry Pratchett, ex-local (Bristol) journalist covers that brilliantly in Truth, the story of Ankh Morpork’s first newspaper.

He’s no longer with us however so I’ll have to use what I learned from him.

How does one reverse the cliche and become a journalist while having to navigate the spectrum of what journalists are from stenographer to power to citizen journalist? Parenti says of those who perpetuate the mainstream media’s biases, ‘you write what you like because they like what you write’. How do citizen journalists get the implicit authority from readers to write what they like because the people like it?

How does a citizen journalist become a ‘journalist’ –from both sides, their own internalisation and from readership and then extended to trust enough to affect local political participation?

human hands knitting sheeps (Rkl painting)

Who controls the internet (controls the world)

The internet was created out of public resources — it was a military project worked on at universities. It is now (almost?) exclusively owned by corporations.

I went to a 5G talk at the Watershed last year hoping to understand more about what the concerns were but instead got to hear the benefits of it. These were not benefits for residents or users but for those who control the means of production and distribution. There was talk of the companies who were set to make money from its use and those would benefit from increased surveillance of the public (states/corporations).

The health concerns did not really come up. In fact, the man giving the talk (a computer scientist university lecturer who had written books on computer science) was quite frankly confused about the spectrum of concern about health. He put up a reference or two to public health England or some other health organisation and then carried on about the ‘real’ issues.

There are two reasons why this is interesting to me:

1. there are two clear sets of argument and concern about 5G; identifying the spread of these separate discussions/arguments would make a good case study for checking demographics and media sources–whose narrative gets amplified?

2. One of the solutions proposed by our speaker was a separate internet infrastructure that was not controlled by corporations. Someone at the meeting piped up to say that he had been part of a collective in Bristol that actually tried to do this. I went to speak to him afterwards and it turned out to be someone I already knew well from Twitter! How’s that for a small world? or probably it just shows how our similar interests brought us both to the same place.

So my intention in this article had been to point out this separate network. I had not at that point, and still haven’t, seen any official media narrative about creating a non-corporation controlled internet infrastructure.

“technologies that do not provide gateways to news content but facilitate access — internet service providers, browsers, mobile operators and app platforms — are also dominated by huge corporations. They have no direct bearing on news consumption, but they do have varying degrees of power over traffic management (Schlosberg 2016: 134–5). Even the cable and routers forming the internet backbone are owned by private corporations.” The internet “has been privatised at the deepest levels (see Curran, Fenton and Freedman 2016).”

Back to 5G:

The coverage of 5G issues has almost uniformly painted the situation to be about health concerns by tinfoil hat wearers who believe we are to be controlled by very rich Martians who now probably live in Silicon Valley. It is almost exactly the same narrative now foisted on those who question the various vaccines on Covid: ‘microchips by Bill Gates controlling my grandma’ etc. This seems the only allowable response to questions.

Re:5G, Issues that are not covered — from anecdotal memory recall and so I will check this — are increased surveillance, who benefits, how they benefit… and other issues within this remit of surveillance.

Full disclosure: I know people involved in the university 5G research — I feel very positive towards these people. Some are Greek, they are friendly, open and easy to talk to;

I know people who are campaigning against 5G for health reasons. I can guarantee they understand none of the actual health issues. These are not well-informed people.

However, I am not dismissing the questions about the health issues because of who the campaigners are.

I haven’t explored the literature either on the health issues or the surveillance/privatisation/control issues. I am agnostic to an extent but my biases lead towards giving prominence to narratives hidden by those who would benefit, and it’s always capital that benefits because capital owns the means of production. But this is not an answer towards what is happening, it’s a disclosure on my beliefs, evidence and biases.

As a case study, it would be useful to look at which media in Bristol have covered which of the 5G narratives, and how.

In the Pervasive Media talk, one of the companies that was discussed was Alphabet, which owns Google and many more companies.

This brings us back to Schlosberg’s research on who controls the media (output). In fact, it’s quite a fun case study because the media facilitators and owners would possibly both have reasons to want to control the narrative about 5G.

Looking at it through a local lens is quite fun in a way because this is a situation split over different boundaries of control. Bristol City Council have said they have no strategy about 5G, they take money/£millions for being part of the pilot for installation of the masts, they have the University of Bristol as city partners/leaders, the masts now apparently (check) need no planning permission to be installed so the council would have no remit over 5G, but it is a local issue. It is happening in the local area and affects residents.

So who do the media report on and from when writing about 5G? It could be the ideal case study. Of course, the detriment to its case-study worth would be the overpowering narrative from the media suggesting that anyone who even mentions 5G is a tin-foil hat wearing Martian apologist/lover.

novel writing on ancient a typewriter

Social media is not just for citizen journalists

When I was envisaging this research, I only saw it from a citizen journalist’s perspective. The picture goes something like in Figure:

Figure 1: the media effects of different types of media, social, local and national

But reading Basu, I have seen there are more elements to how ‘voices’ get amplified. The amplification and trust in the news is filtered through algorithms.

“Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among the new intermediaries through which millions of us access news. Media scholar Justin Schlosberg (2016) refers to them as ‘gateways’. Manuel Castells (2009), though critical of global media corporations, argues that social networking sites offer the means of ‘mass self communication’. They enable users to produce meaning interactively. Anyone can tweet, post or upload a video.”

The literature, however, shows that “gateways actually tend to lead users back to mainstream news brands. For example, Schlosberg (2016: 120–2) reveals that Google’s news algorithm systematically favours large-scale and incumbent providers. Its ranking of stories is not only matched to the keywords of a search: it gives prior weighting to news providers based on a range of what it considers indicators of news quality. These include the size of audience, the size of newsroom, and the volume of outpout. When it comes to volume, it favours providers that offer a breadth of coverage over specialist media, and those that produce a lot of coverage on topics that are also receiving a lot of attention on the web as a whole. Thus, the algorithm favours established providers that pursue a dominant news agenda.”

“There’s a feedback loop at work here. Because these outlets are dominant, Google prioritises them, which, in turn, reinforces their dominance. As Schlosberg points out, given its stated preference for sources like CNN and the BBC, it may also be reinforcing a news agenda with a ‘western’ bias (122).

So how does a feedback loop get modelled and measured?

I keep leaning back to my data analysis as a a solution but I’m not sure that’s right. What if the data collection method was more aligned with journalism? How do journalists get data?

Vox pops? radio station call-ins? letter pages? The last two would hardly be a guarantee of an unbiased representative sample but a vox pop might be useful if it was done long enough and with a broad enough selection of locations.

It could be simple — have you heard of the mayor’s faith advisor, diesel fleet of vehicles, Bristol Housing Festival?

Do you rent, own, etc.?

Could their demographics be assumed by the questioner? how much bias might that introduce to the data analysis?

And time would need to be added as well! I’ve written about the dispersal rate of information — a decay effect in essence.

References

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